Oakhelm (Folk/Black Metal)
Betwixt and Between (3.5/4)- 2007
Fans of black metal should not pass up one of the most impressive debuts of 2007. This folk black metal band from Oregon is a perfect example of the incredible black metal movement in the Northwest underground. Betwixt and Between is brutal throughout, and it features some extremely impressive instrumentals. They may not have the church-burning intensity of many Norwegian black metal bands, but their combination of black and folk creates one of the most effective and unique sounds that has come from either folk or black metal. If you’re a fan of black metal, do yourself a favor and give Oakhelm a listen.
Ocean of Sadness (Progressive Metal)
The Arrogance of Ignorance (3.5/4)- 2008
Oceans of Sadness are another odd experimental metal band in the spirit of Mr. Bungle, uneXpect, and Diablo Swing Orchestra. Their style is far more serious and contained than the aforementioned groups, but the use of unusual instruments, constantly changing styles, and moments of pure oddity work to a far greater extent than they should. The Arrogance of Ignorance could be described as what a heavier Mr. Bungle would sound like if they decided to record a serious album. Somehow it works, and it works beautifully at that. For those who like their metal unique and inventive, Oceans of Sadness have put out a great record. It may be difficult to find, but it’s worth tracking down.
The Offspring (Alternative Rock)
Smash (3.5/4)- 1994
One of the most famous rock albums of the 90’s, Smash is a series of ridiculously catchy over-the-top pop punk and hard rock hybrids that can be borderline annoying, but genius at the same time. The songs are simple, but fun and hilariously over-the-top at times without becoming repetitive or boring. Smash stays loud, never takes itself seriously, and is just simply fun all the way through. Take it for what it is, and enjoy it.
Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace (2/4)- 2008
The Offspring's Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace may very well be an improvement over the group's last few records. Unfortunately, an album needs to definitively the succeed garbage like Splinter and Conspiracy of One to even be considered for a recommendation. At times, The Offspring achieve that this time around. The album has brief moments (namely the lead single "Hammerhead") where they sound rejuvenated, and maybe even the best they've sounded since Smash. It's commendable that The Offspring have taken on a more mature subject lyrically, and on occasion are able to come across as politically intelligent. Other times, they sound unintentionally juvenile and even idiotic. There are moments where Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace shines, and "Hammerhead" may the group's best song in some time, but the rest of the album ranges from the average to the awful.
Opeth (Progressive Metal)
Orchid (3/4)- 1995
Opeth’s debut is a difficult album to grade. Listening to in 1995, without hearing the multiple masterpieces that Opeth would later create, it would probably have sounded much better than it does now. It’s a little rough around the edges, but Opeth’s unique progressive death metal sound is still here and in full effect. This was the album that first showed off that sound, and again, listening to it at its time of release would likely be a mesmerizing experience. In 2010, however, Orchid sounds like a less astounding version, watered-down version of Opeth. It’s often hectic, as opposed to perfect flow of their later work, and it often comes off as more experimental than need be. Still, Orchid is an important album in metal’s history, and it certainly warrants a listen from fans of the band who have yet to hear the band’s earliest full length release.
Still Life (4/4)- 1999
Opeth’s second attempt at a concept album is much coherent than its predecessor (My Arms, Your Hearse), but its still the incredible music that overshadows the album’s concept. This is Opeth’s most varied and progressive album of the 90’s, featuring elements of death metal, acoustic rock, jazz, and of course progressive rock. Few bands are original as Opeth, but what’s even more amazing is how polished they are at their craft. It’s hard to imagine that a song as brutal as “Godhead’s Lament” can flow seamlessly into a beautiful jazz ballad like “Benighted.” It works, however, because of Opeth’s attention to detail. Every transition is a moment in and of itself, all full of subtleties and an absolute mastery of musical tension. Still Life is a sublime piece of art, and is a standout even in Opeth’s impressive catalogue.
Blackwater Park (4/4)- 2001
Simply one of the greatest albums of the past decade, Opeth’s magnum opus is a masterpiece of progressive metal that forces its listener to rethink everything they know about music. Blackwater Park is an album that pushes so many boundaries and is filled with so many subtle moments of awe that’s just about indescribable. This is music at its finest, and it’s a one of a kind experience that earns my highest recommendation.
Watershed (4/4)- 2008
Even for an Opeth album, Watershed is outstanding. Words cannot describe the mastery at which Opeth works, and Watershed is Opeth at their best. The contrast of soft and heavy, beautiful and brutal, and lyrical and musical poetry, is one that is at a level of high art few bands are ever able to achieve. This is an album that is dark, beautiful, and poetic, and one that is built on individual moments. Each moment is masterful within itself, but comes together to create a series of masterful tracks that also come together to create a powerful masterpiece of an album. Watershed is simply as good as music gets. It takes many listens to fully appreciate, but it’s a beautiful and powerful experience that is among the best this critic has had the honor of being a part of. I can’t recommend this album highly enough, and in a world where garbage floods the market and dominates album sales, it’s depressing that a truly beautiful magnificent piece of art like this one goes unnoticed to many. Even most critics have denied Watershed a place on their top 10 lists, and I honestly believe there is no excuse for that. This is an album that makes me proud to be a critic and music lover, and I urge and plead any and all fans to treat yourself to Watershed.